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While the lion's share of Overkill's post-1991 and pre-2010 material tends to get a fair amount of criticism, their 13th studio offering (counting the late 90s compilation of influential cover songs "Coverkill") is largely greeted with an almost universal respect, though not heaped with the same level of praise as "Ironbound". For a regular trustee of all things that kill in excess, this is a bit perplexing at first given that this isn't too different from the millennial studio resurgence in "Bloodletting", as well as much of the band's more polished mid-90s material, but from a general perspective it does make a level of sense. "Killbox 13" is a bit more of a thrill-ride in several respects compared to much of the material after "Horrorscope", largely due to a slightly more concentrated dose of aggression and a tighter arrangement, but probably most of all because of a continual consistency of sound that while not quite the flashy thrashing mayhem of "Ironbound", points to an eventual return to that sound.
One of the first signs of a truly powerful thrash assault is to start, as the devil often does, by putting your best foot forward. Indeed, Overkill literally does take the "Devil By The Tail" with a driving, pummeling groove that reminds a bit of the early 90s work of a few Bay Area holdouts, complete with the only really prominent bass intro to be heard out of D.D. Verni on this particular album (in contrast to the Cliff Burton inspired extravaganza that was "The Killing Kind"). It functions primarily based on a unified and simplistic arrangement, rolling out a veritable red carpet for Blitz Ellsworth to excite the masses with his sleazy snarl, which comes with a bit more potency than normal. Nipping on this demolition disaster of a song are 2 more in "Damned" and "The One" that follow after the same formula, throwing out a basic riff set that's simple enough for Dimebag, but with a bit more life to them and a vocalist dynamic enough to keep things interesting.
Nevertheless, while this album makes an impressive showing of mid-tempo thrashing that is definitely a welcome shift compared to the somewhat experimental elements that came along for the ride on "From The Underground And Below" and "Necroshine", there is the occasional variation into semi-balladry here and there, though it is definitely far more limited in scope. "No Lights" starts off in sort of a melodic anthem character, reminding a bit of the intro of Metallica's "Struggle Within", but takes a bit longer before it really gets going. "Crystal Clear" takes a near full head on dive into Pantera territory after the "The Great Southern Trendkill" with a rock based riff set that suddenly finds itself in frenetic speed metal territory; a bit jarring, but not an all out disappointment. That's pretty much the low points of this otherwise solid venture, just a handful of remnants of the still looming spirit of 90s groove, but stripped of most of its weakest parts.
There is definitely something to be said regarding how this album stands in comparison to Overkill's widely heralded classic albums, but it's pretty hard to argue with the consistent ownage of speeders like "Unholy" and "I Rise", each one never quite escaping the slower trudging feel of the 90s completely, but definitely pointing towards the all-out mastery that came to fruition about 7 years later on "Ironbound". The addition of Derek "The Skull" Tailer definitely frees up the veteran lead efforts of Dave Linsk on here, though it doesn't quite get to the level of fret board shredding insanity that Gustafson first brought to the table with a vengeance on "The Years Of Decay". It's tough to go wrong with Overkill, and "Killbox 13" proves that even when their albums take a measured approach, the body count is still quite high.
Time for my own revisionism. During my earlier review of ReliXIV I stated that I found Killbox 13 overrated and inferior to it's direct successor. After suffering through Bloodletting recently, I concluded that The Wrecking Crew's thirteenth opus ain't so bad after all, at least in light of what came directly before it.
I suppose my biggest gripe here runs parallel with one of the bones I picked with Bloodletting: There are virtually no songs here that stand out over the rest. The acquisition of Derek Tailer results in no discernible variation in the riff department. Dave Linsk appears to be more restrained here than he was on his debut with the group as well; very little overt thrashing going on here, although there appears to be a stronger traditional metal influence surging through many of the tracks. The entire album appears to be mired in mid-paced land, which only yields marginal favors for the band sonically. Colin Richardson's production job here has always rubbed me the wrong way. It sounds too overproduced for an Overkill record, the guitars are too cleaned-up and the percussion too clicky. Verni is shockingly absent in the mix as well, making me almost wish for a return to the W.F.O. days.
Blitz still carries the day in a respectable manner; definitely a huge improvement over Bloodletting, which suffered from dull lyrics and a horrendous vocal tone. I prefer his approach on albums like this and Necroshine, with a darker inflection interspersed with shrieking highs. On later albums he would tinker with this approach in ways that I wasn't so much a fan of; so this may be Ellsworth's best output post-2000 in my opinion. Blitz has hinted at a concept of sorts that revolves around the abstraction of the Seven Deadly Sins, but after countless sessions of analyzing the lyrics in detail, I have to admit that I don't really see it.
Opener "Devil By The Tail" gets things off to a solid start, but I find myself drawn more to "Crystal Clear" with its punishing mid-paced approach. It's like "New Machine" all over again, but with more style. "The Sound of Dying" ends up being the best cut on Killbox 13 due to magnificent lyrical patterns and a face-melting riff set. Unfortunately, the lack of variation in the tempo department results in many tracks, such as "Unholy", "Damned", and "I Rise", appearing almost shockingly interchangeable; it's almost as if the same song is making multiple appearances. There are some more eclectic moments, like the classic-sounding opening of "No Lights". While lack of variation could have become a problem, Ellsworth's manic shrieking manages to salvage the potency of the material when the proceedings start to shift toward Bloodletting territory.
Despite Verni's lack of impact, the rhythm section is bolstered by one of Tim Mallare's better outings. He still can't touch Sid or Rat, but he at least makes a case for himself here. Overall, Killbox 13 remains one of the band's better post-millennial efforts. Not without its faults, but a nice slab of groovy thrash nonetheless.
With its intense Slayer-ific breakdown, and the eerie chorus vocals that reprise the opening guitar melody, "Devil by the Tail" was probably the best album opener Overkill had unleashed in several years, and made me instantly excited that the band had reached deep into themselves to produce a proper knuckle sandwich worthy of the brand. There was still a hint or two of the bland riffing that plagued Necroshine, and the band was largely committed to creating similar, simplistic structures rather than finally evolving beyond the threshold they built in the later 80s, but a lot of the riffs on this seem to come together, and ultimately there are about a half-dozen songs on this thing that are comparably fun to much of the band's much lauded material of recent years.
Tracks like "Damned" or "The One" might seem to hinge on mere reconfigurations of riffs the band had written earlier for weaker records, but they possess excellent build-ups and payout choruses that stick with you at least for a few months. I don't like the backing vocals in the latter, granted, they're pretty phoned in and might have been better mixed to provide added power, but Blitz carries the day with relative ease despite the almost pedestrian mentality behind a lot of the mid-paced thrash riffing. "The Sound of Dying" has a great momentum to it, the sporadic and stringy leads, and "Struck Down" has some nice descending lines in the bass and guitar while building a speed/thrash gait not unlike "What I'm Missing", one of the standouts from the prior album. "Unholy" is another muscular piece which wouldn't have seemed out of place on a record like Taking Over, while "No Lights" and "Crystal Clear" make great use of more sluggish ball fisted pacing, the latter having some great vocals where Bobby almost seems to channel Ronny James Dio.
This was Derek 'The Skull' Tailer's studio debut in the band, returning them to the 5-man configuration they had briefly dropped off, but while he and Linsk manage to carve out a nice double slice of sirloin, I would not put it far past its predecessor. I don't know if it was a conscious decision, but the bass here, apart from being audible, doesn't exactly stand out next to the rhythm guitars, and Verni's lines feel as distinct as they had been in 88-89 or even some of their less appealing groove metal infusions. Once more, you get the few traces of 90s Overkill, but to be honest I think you could probably erase the band's career from 1991-2000 and just tack this on after The Years of Decay for a perfectly fluid continuity. Not the greatest of the band's albums, but this was more enjoyable to me than Bloodletting and the music far outshines the bland cover and title. I realize Ironbound is considered this group's return to the thrashing fore, partly due to a whole new generational audience exploring the thrash revival, but Killbox 13 was functional enough to earn that honor.
This album has been heralded by many as a return to form for the thrash metal gods Overkill, In my opinion, This isn't a fulltime comeback but rather a pretty decent album for that decade. Overkill's best album since "Horroscope" is probably "Immortalis" released in 2007.
While there are still elements of classic overkill to be found here, New elements have been injected to the album, Blitz still continues with his Dave Mustaine-esque 'talking', He totally abandoned his 'singing' tendencies by the turn of the 90's. He doesn't hit the ranges he used to with his voice anymore. Sometimes, His voice tends to sound inhuman and unusual. There is a lot of processing to be found here in the guitarwork department, The vocals feels overproduced and sometimes. The song-wrIting is mediocre, It seems as if the crew half-hearted their way around writing lyrics for the song, The choruses feel forced and have a tendency to grate your nerves after repeated listening. The drumming is solid but it still has the unsatisfying 'click' sound they've had since W.F.O.
The guitar work is decent, Nothing too original to be found here, Most of the riffs feel like a re-hash of their previous works and works by other bands. The groove tendencies have been around in Overkill. The grooves have a weird "Electronic" feel about them, The album passes by at a certain speed, Without leaving any impact. Totally unremarkable and flat but still not bad, Considering the year it was released.
The best tracks on this album are the starter "Devil by the tail" which is a good way to kick off the album. "Struck down" and "Unholy" are two songs where the grooves sound pretty addictive. The lyrics leave a lot to be desired, Most of the time, It's just random sequences of themes put together. The album is overall a bit repetetive, The length is just about aright at around the 50 minute mark. If you're a die-hard overkill fan who'd swallow anything released by them, Give this one a try, arguably their best work in a decade or so.
This is a flawless album. And by that, I do not mean "Best album ever," because it is not. What Killbox 13 is, is an album that does not have any mistakes or anything that sucks. It doesn't ascend to the same heights of brilliance as Rust, Puppets, etc. - it doesn't try to. Instead, it slides neatly into "kickass thrash" and stays there. Kind of like Overkill in general.
To get more specific, this is the best thing Overkill has done since Horrorscope, probably because it's the thrashiest thing they've done since Horrorscope. Pretty much every track on here is good; however, a couple stand out. "Unholy" is the best song on here, featuring a couple of wicked riffs and one of those great "long extended note with Blitz carrying the melody" choruses that Overkill specializes in, as well as a start-stop ending sequence that is capable of giving some poor fucker neck problems. "No Lights" has a similar chorus; an uncharacteristically melodic tune that goes into a sweet breakdown halfway through. "Struck Down" and "I Rise" are pure ripping thrash that would not be out of place on The Years of Decay or Horrorscope, and the former has a brilliant bridge that I DARE you not to sing along with. Go ahead, try not to.
The rest of the album is solid all the way through..."The One" and "Crystal Clear" are the closest to mediocre, "Until I Die" and "The Sound of Dying" are the best. But really, they're all kickass tracks. There's nothing on here that really goes above and beyond (except maybe "Unholy"), but it's all solid, headbang-worthy thrash metal.
Interesting bit of trivia - Blitz has mentioned that this album is a semi-concept, with all the lyrics reflective of the Seven Deadly Sins. Fun new party game: trying to figure out which one is which without resorting to illegal hallucinogens trying to match up Sloth.
One last thing worth mentioned - THE PRODUCTION. This is the best metal production I've heard since...Christ, how about the Black Album? Everything is "Crystal Clear" but still, um..."Unholy"? Okay, fuck that stupid pun. Just know that the production is very good and if I Hear Black sounded like this, it would be in the running for best 'Kill album.
I'd have to say that Killbox 13 is a step up from Bloodletting. Not a big step, but a step nonetheless. Why? Well, I just find that there is a little more thrash than groove here, which is ALWAYS a good thing!
Anyway, we start off with a great tune, "Devil by the Tail" which is pretty indicative of what Overkill have been doing recently. Thrashy and groovy at the same time, with some pretty interesting stuff going on with the guitars and vocals. Next is "Damned" which really moves along at a quick pace, and is one of the better headbangers presented here.
The next tune, "No Lights" is a little uncharacteristic for the 'kill, but it's not out of place. It starts off slow and stays like that for most of the song before exploding into more thrash antics near the end. "The One" is next, and has an amazing chorus with some really great backing vocals.
The next song, however, is a real stinker. Sounding almost mallcore at first, "Crystal Clear" sounds like mid-90's Pantera mixed with bad Machine Head, with a little Crowbar thrown in, too. Stinky.
The rest of the album, thankfully is more ass kicking groove-thrash, with "The Sound of Dying", "Struck Down" and "Unholy" being the better ones. Overall, this album is a real good listen, and probably their best since WFO, further solidifying Blitz and DD as metal gods. With that said, I believe Dave Linsk to be the best guitarist Overkill has had in a very long time, probably since Bobby G was in the band, although the Cannavino-Gant tandem was excellent as well. Overkill just keep on going, and haven't released a really BAD album yet. I guess it's like Blitz screamed way back in '85... "Ride high, ride tall, Overkill will never fall, Midnight, dark sky, Overkill will never die!!!"
This is a very solid offering from the fine people that brought you the greatest invention since sliced bread: thrash metal!! The first thing you notice is - the refreshingly good guitar tone. This isn't the slightly detuned sound of Bloodletting (man that album would have been so fucking insane in standard tuning!) - this is classic-sounding and heavy at the same time.
First - Devil by the Tail. Starts off with some decent groove-ish riffs, not unlike something that could be found on The Killing Kind, or maybe From the Underground. But this album is better than those two - just that the ideas are similar. Two verses, two choruses, and then at 2:44 in - total fucking thrash mania!! Yes kids, you're not the first and you won't be the last. These guys still know, after all these years, how to knock you fucking dead with a thrash riff... then another slower section, but hey, what's this after the fourth chorus? Hey mister Lucifer... more thrashage!
This opener is a pretty representative track for this album - it's got its solid thrash moments and its less solid groove-thrash moments. Now this is not bad at all - this is the stuff Pantera would have come up with had they gone down the Cowboys direction a bit more, as opposed to those dumbfuck riffs they wrote for songs like This Love.
In any case, Damned is next. A fairly fast and aggressive number, solid headbanging to be found. Some parts remind me of Long Time Dying or maybe even Black Line from Necroshine, though this song isn't quite as dark as that one. Just a solid from beginning to end number, though in the middle there isn't the overt destroyer of a thrash riff. Oh well.
No Lights is next - this is, while not the best song on here, certainly the most interesting and shows the greatest variety in songwriting. It starts off kinda slow with some groove riffs, and then throws in a melodic guitar line that seems to suggest "power ballad" at first... then it moves into a more upbeat riff set under the verses, before going into a nice chorus. "Over, it's over, it's gone, it's a flight..." - this just works on a melodic level. Totally not thrash, but still quite excellent. Another verse, another chorus, then the song speeds up into a pretty fast headbanging moment and then explodes at around 3.20 - "got a full blown mayday, better get us home!!" This is right here the hightlight of the album right here, this 48 second long passage. This is just about the highlight of Overkill's past 3 albums. The rest of the song is only slightly above average, but that middle section makes it a winner.
Then, The One, this is a pretty typical number by Overkill standards - again, something that would not be out of place on Bloodletting but with the much better guitar tone. Nice thrash riffs in the pre-chorus part... "fall and you bleed as the demons appear, it's time to stand and deliver". This is pretty much a midpaced thrash number, especially with the solid riffage in the middle around the solo that picks up the pace a little too.
Crystal Clear, starts off with some stop-go riffage. Okay guys, just a bit too much from the Pantera catalogue, but hey, it's only the introduction fortunately. Nonetheless, this is just about the least thrashy song on here, and is the lowlight of the album... something left over from the From the Underground or the Necroshine era is what it sounds like, with a fair dose of I Hear Black too.
Then, we get the highlight... The Sound of Dying!!! Whatever the fuck that intro is, it's silly, but then we get into some fast fucking riffage. "Time will allow, as I pass through the season!!" (I have no idea what these lyrics are, but hey I'm just demonstrating parts of the song that rule, and these verses rule!) Then about halfway through we get a slow and heavy as fuck section. Ready, set, bang!!! This is pretty much the second coming of Horrorscope here... wow! "Just for killing, just gotta move me!" This is the best song on here - it's excellent in every way. Total thrash monster.
Until I Die contines the songs with death related titles. This one is slower, more brooding, and has "ballad" written all over the first part of it, but it picks up gradually, and at around 2.54 it totally goes into thrash madness. "If I had my way, I'd tear it down!" Then it goes back into ballad mode. Pretty fucking good stuff, actually.
Struck Down is probably the fastest song on here. It pretty much keeps the same speed from beginning to end, except for a few bursts here and there between verses, and one middle section... "watch me fall to Hell!" This is a Bloodletting-style song, especially the second half of that album - not all that out of place from a "Left Hand Man". Some nice solos too, and finally at the end they throw in a real banger of a riff. "Down, struck down!"
Then, the other highlight of the album - it's kinda funny that they come at tracks 6 and 9, not anywhere near the beginning. Hell if I didn't know any better I'd say this album was getting stronger as it went on. Well, kinda - it's about consistent from beginning to end. Anyway, Unholy. Thrash monster. The Killing Kind meets Horrorscope. Especially with that main break riff under the chorus. "Here but now it's gone!" This is a solid fucking banging number, kids. Overkill still cranks them out with the best of them.
Last up is another fast one... "I Rise". After the "Can't Kill a Dead Man" closer from one album ago, we have this one, which is pretty similar in vein. Nice overt thrash riff between lines of the verses, which is developed further very well after the main chorus. "I rise!!!" Thrash break! Bang your head as if up from the dead, indeed. What a fucking closer, riffs abound.
Well then - and that brings us to the end. It's Overkill, and they deliver. This band has been doing thrash metal since 1979 and they're still going strong. A worthy addition to their catalogue.